Is Your Internship Legal?


For various degrees you’ll be told to take any opportunity to gain experience. But it is important that you are aware of your legal rights when it comes to internships.

The Fair Work Act is used to protect people from being exploited by businesses. If a business is not paying someone that is working as an employee, that business is breaching the law and liable for financial penalties.

But many work experience placements and internships can be unpaid if they can be classified as a vocational placement under the Fair Work Act.

A Vocational placement means that the work experience is part of an education or training course. These are legally authorized placements where the employer is not required to pay the person. If the criteria of a vocational placement aren’t met, the person is entitled to the minimum wage and other entitlements according to the National Employment Standards and modern awards.

Basically, if a person is not being paid they must not be an employee of a business. Some indicators that an employment relationship exists are:

  • That the person is working to assist business productivity, rather than for work experience.
  • That the person has worked there for a long time (internships have an end date)
  • That the person is required to be productive in the workplace.
  • That the business is benefitting from the arrangement more than the person.

Students are potentially not covered by workplace insurance if their internship isn’t legal. So if an accident happens while working, the student isn’t protected from any costs.

More information about internships and work placements in Australia can be found on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website.

If you are being exploited by an employer, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman. There is also an Overseas Workers’ Team. An interpreter service is available for non-English speaking people at 13 14 50 and the information about workplace laws is translated into 27 languages at


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